One thing that doctors, patients and scientists all do agree on is that exposure to mold and dampness can cause ill effects, such as coughing and wheezing, and that for some patients, particularly those with compromised immune systems, asthma, allergies and other respiratory infections, exposure to dampness and cold can exacerbate those conditions.
"Molds can be found almost anywhere on virtually any substance, providing moisture is, or has, been present for a period of time," says Rick Blum, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). "People should be aware of the symptoms of exposure to mold, particularly in homes and offices where dampness is a problem."
ACEP encourages people to speak with their physicians or health care providers, particularly if they begin to notice allergic symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and wheezing. A physician may recommend drug therapies, allergy shots, or refer patients to an allergist/immunologist, who has received special training in diagnosing and treating allergic diseases.
"Go to the emergency department if you have severe sweating, faintness, nausea, panting, rapid pulse rate, and pale, cold, moist skin," said Dr. Blum. "These are symptoms of an intense allergic reaction and require immediate medical attention."
Dr. Blum said if an allergy to mold is suspected, or found, avoid the outdoors on windy days or when you begin to notice symptoms. The wind often stirs up pollen and mold and carries it through the air. Do not cut your grass or be near someone mowing his or her lawn.
People with asthma sometimes find their symptoms worsen due to mold exposure. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects more than 17 million Americans. It is characterized by inflammation of the airways. The inflammation makes the airways smaller, making it more difficult to breathe. Inflammation of the airways in some people can be triggered by their exposure to allergens. Since many of the symptoms of asthma are the same as they are for allergies, physicians use some of the same medications to treat both.
Maintaining the relative humidity between 30 percent - 60 percent will help to control mold. This provides little solace for people whose homes were literally underwater for days and weeks.
"Many people suffering from seasonal allergies are reacting to mold and mold spores, particularly those who experience symptoms in the fall and winter when plant pollen is probably not the cause," said Dr. Blum.